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Coming, going at Hung-a-lel-ti

Manda Vann is one of the few people in her community lucky enough to walk to work. The rest of her neighbors commute an average of 10 miles to jobs in neighboring towns.

The 22-year-old was born and raised in Hung-a-lel-ti. She has no intentions of leaving.

“Most of the kids here want to leave,” Vann said. “I never wanted to live in the city.”



Vann’s parents have been together for 24 years, but they haven’t been formally married.

“They still call it a trial marriage,” she explained.



Her father works for the public works road department. Her mother, Katherine Walker, is chairwoman of the advisory parent committee at the Woodfords Indian Education Center where Vann works.

Vann, a program assistant at the center, has dedicated her life to her work.

“I go wherever I’m needed,” she said.

Program director Kate Macartney is grooming Vann to take her place. To extend her education, Macartney takes Vann to education conferences in Sacramento and Reno and has placed her in charge of the center’s new library.

“All the kids are literate, but they’re below their grade level,” Vann said. She believes that with a little bit of encouragement the children can graduate from high school and go on to college.

“You can do anything if you want it badly enough,” she said.

Vann and Macartney see the center’s future in the children’s success.

“People will come and take over where Manda left off,” Macartney said.

Graduating from Douglas High School in 1996, Vann moved to Kansas to attend Haskell College, an American Indian school.

“It’s fun out there, but I like living somewhere small,” she added.

Vann remained close with high school friends that stayed close to home, but nothing stays the same.

“Most high school kids spread out,” she said. “Your friends change, you know.

“We claimed college friends as brothers and sisters.”

At Haskell, Vann participated in clubs distinguished by tribe and learned the differences between the cultures.

“In Alaska I have a friend who whistled at night to bring out the aurora borealis,” she said. “For us, we don’t whistle at night. It brings evil.”

Dating in college was a new experience for Vann, who didn’t date in high school and who was forbidden from dating within her own tribe.

“Elders tell (community members) to go find spouses elsewhere,” she said. “We can’t date our own Indians.”

Vann started a relationship with a man who eventually moved back to Hung-a-lel-ti with her She was able to rent a home through the housing authority since she moved in with her boyfriend. Common-law marriages are nothing new among the Washoe. Vann’s parents’ union of 24 years is a prime example.

Vann’s relationship ended on a sour note and was related to her boyfriend’s behavior when he drank. Vann remained in her house which she shares with her sister and cousin.

“Me and my sister are probably the only young people to have a house,” she said.

“As far as I know (Vann and her sister) are role models and live sober lifestyles,” Macartney said.

“We rent movies, stay up late and girl talk,” Vann said. The family time offsets her otherwise hectic schedule.

Neighborhood kids, most of whom are related to Vann, flock to her house.

“When we cook we have to buy economy-size everything,” she said. “We never know who is going to drop by.”

In the summertime, Vann buys 10-pound bags of sugar to support the Kool-Aid habits of all the kids.

“All the kids come over and sit on our porch and tell us about their problems. The kids know that alcohol is not allowed.

“They just need someone to listen to them.”

Vann remembered when she and her friends wore out 15 decks of playing cards.

When Vann and her roommates get the opportunity to use a car, they drive to Reno or Sacramento. She can laugh at stereotypes people try to place on her and her friends, mainly those of alcohol addiction and criminal behavior.

“When we go to Reno, we’ll go to Pinion Plaza and we’ll come walking in with Slurpees,” she said.

Lack of access to a car, considered a necessity by most, doesn’t faze Vann at all.

“It’s always been if I need something like McDonald’s, I know I can do without it,” she added.


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